17.12.2022 Author: Vladimir Platov

“Star Wars” between the US and the East

Since 1957, space has become an arena of active rivalry between scientific thought and economic-technical capabilities between Moscow and Washington. For a long time, the USSR was the leader in the peaceful exploration of space, launching Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite, and sending the first human being into outer space (Yuri Gagarin), and afterwards the first female cosmonaut (Valentina Tereshkova). And a few years later, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first human to perform a spacewalk.

The United States tried to compete with the USSR. Thus, in 1969 the American astronaut Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon, although in many countries, including the United States itself, there are still disputes whether this is a real fact or a staged event.

However, the United States very quickly shifted from scientific and technical competition with the USSR in space towards militarization, considering outer space as a future battlefield.  And so, already in the 1960s, analysts in this country started talking about space war. These discussions turned into real plans in the United States, especially after the formation in 2018 by Donald Trump of a new branch of the Armed Forces – the United States Space Force (USSF) whose main purpose is conducting military operations in space. Even then, in addition to operational units, reconnaissance units appeared in the USSF, which then became known as Space Delta, whose tasks include orbital warfare. For example, Space Delta 3 is focused on electronic warfare, Space Delta 6 – on operations in cyberspace, Space Delta 8 – on satellite communications and navigational warfare. Space Delta 18 has the specific task of countering the Russian Federation and China in near-Earth orbits. This suggests that American generals seriously consider outer space as a potential theater of military operations.

It must be recalled, however, that US Space Command (SPACECOM) already existed in the United States during the “Star Wars” era of Ronald Reagan. Back then, in 1983, US President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) with the main objective of gaining dominance in space, in particular, by deploying defense systems capable of intercepting foreign missiles. In 1993, this program was curtailed.

As for the USSF, already upon creation, it was announced that the United States intended to pay more serious attention to interaction with its allies such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan, with the possibility of expanding such military interaction with countries in other regions.

The first regulation for the USSF was published in August 2020, which indicated the ability of the US Space Force not only to defend, but also to go on the offensive “if necessary in order to protect American national interests.”  The United States’ deployment of military operations in space can be seen, in particular, in cases of jamming satellite communications, laser blinding satellites and probing the systems of Russian and Chinese spacecraft for possible hacking.

Recently, the build-up by the United States of military operations in space is also due to its intention to more actively use the opportunities in this area to strengthen Washington’s sanctions policy against rogue states. Indeed, in order to disable a satellite through which financial transactions and key communications pass, it is enough just to “push” one or another piece of space debris. And the “spoiled” satellite itself can already lead to serious financial and economic disruptions, and not only in one country.

Most recently, the USSF command have been quite active and one can very clearly see the consolidation of the potential that Washington and its allies have in space, especially in terms of receiving and distributing information from satellites, and using it in the strategic military plans of the United States. To this end, in September 2020, the USSF established its units in the vast territory of the Arabian Peninsula, deploying a squadron of 20 pilots stationed at the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar as part of its first overseas deployment. Soon, the 20 US Air Force personnel who made up the squad of “primary space operators” were joined by several more people to “control satellites and monitor enemy maneuvers in space.”

To coordinate and control the actions of the USSF, Washington began to create regional space command units, which began to appear outside the US mainland. Thus, the first of these units was already created in early November 2022 within the structure of the US Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii. By the end of 2022, the United States, according to the South Korean Yonhap news agency, plans to create a similar space force under the wing of the United States Forces Korea (USFK) and within the US Central Command responsible for the Middle East.

In its recently released National Security Strategy, the Pentagon officially stated that the establishment of the US Space Force was aimed at implementing comprehensive deterrence in all areas.  For this purpose, Washington, within the framework of military-technical cooperation, is assisting in the creation of space operations forces in allied states. On December 1, the ROK Air Force launched its Space Operations Squadron at the Osan Air Base, 65 kilometers south of Seoul. The new squadron includes the Space Operations Division (created in 2019 to carry out various missions such as space debris fallout forecast), the Air Force Space Intelligence Center and the Satellite Control Center. The squadron plans to carry out various missions such as peacetime and wartime monitoring of space objects, dissemination of information about potential space threats, space cooperation with the United States Space Force and operating military surveillance satellites that South Korea plans to deploy in the future.

In modern warfare, operational environments (land, air, sea, space and cyberspace) are highly interconnected. In line with this reality, the United States has already developed and put into effect a number of directive documents, and the new “military space” strategy of America has become one of the elements of this carefully built system. It places a significant emphasis on the development of US military-strategic cooperation with many of its military allies and partners, including those in the countries of the East. And taking into account the fact that in recent years not only political and economic, but also military-strategic activity has begun to shift to the countries of the East, we should expect new efforts from Washington to draw the countries of this region into US military plans in outer space.

Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.